Tantallon Castle

Tantallon is one of the places which I feel looks more spectacular on pictures than in person. This, however, is not because the place is bad, but because I don’t think a good position to appreciate it all remains. The front walls are strong and people can still climb them, but if there ever was one to the rear (slight doubts), that would have been a better place to look out from (for me). Or, the gatehouse through which one enters these days…

The skill by which the Scottish lairds built and maintained castles must be appreciated. And, Tantallon is definitely one of these places. The wish that a man must have had, saying “I shall have my castle here”, and then building it. Now, this statement makes it all sound inhospitable which it actually is not. It’s just difficult: very easy to cut off from the landward side, but also problematic to access by the sea due to the cliffs it stands on. From the point of view of the construction-work, this must have been a right pain.

Tantallon is poetic in the best sense with a slightly ruined façade visible as one approaches. The external gatehouse, however, is in tatters with one getting the barest of ideas what entering through it could have looked like. Also, the rear (seaward) wall has disappeared, and only the barest of ideas tells us what the castle in its entirety looked like.

Overall, though, perfect! What makes it stand out even more is the wonderful seascape (where I have to add that, Bass Rock feels like Ailsa Craig picked up and thrust to the other side of Scotland).

The other things that bring these Scottish gems to life is the history itself. A story to go with Tantallon, for example, recounts the tale of the Civil War, how a group of thirty (I believe) mounted bandits essentially put up a better fight than the rest of Scotland put together. General Monck is who fixed the situation as Tantallon could not stand against his artillery. There are other Scottish associations as well, typically having to do with imprisoning kings and such things. Poor James who could never trust his regents to actually be reasonable. The stories, some might say, are lots of fun. For others, the below will do:

View from Tantallon Castle

‘Wrapped Up in Death’, ‘Castle’

There’s no upside to screwing with things you can’t explain.

That’s very much the takeaway from the ‘Castle’ episode ‘Wrapped Up in Death’. A very good and meaningful phrase uttered by the Captain Roy Montgomery after relating a story from his early detective years, it’s hard to argue with.

Things you can explain with, go ahead. Things you can’t, be aware…

Dunstanburgh Castle

Moving southwards on the coast, there’s Dunstanburgh. Or, rather, what was Dunstanburgh. With the castle being so closely tied to the fate of its lords, the fact that the Lord, Thomas of Lancaster, earned royal displeasure by killing Piers Gaveston, did not help Dunstanburgh rise through the times. Thomas was often on the wrong side of any argument after that, and it was not long before he died. It is not even known whether the Earl ever made it to his castle.

The final dagger through the heart of Dunstanburgh was, of course, its destruction in the Wars of the Roses when Lord Warwick’s artillery decided that the castle’s masonry was of the previous century. As expected, it did not hold out.

What is clear, however, and what stood through the times, is that the king’s men in Bamburgh could see the defiance inherent in Dunstanburgh. Even now, when one stands facing north, the mighty keep at Bamburgh is clearly visible. When the great walls of Dunstanburgh were still intact the sight would have been similarly majestic from the other side. Majestic, I say, by which I mean the king’s men would always have known that their vigilance was required.

Dunstanburgh Castle

What is not noticeable from this photo is the fact that as one goes further along the coast (or the walls), the coastline develops into a massive sea-cliff. Thomas chose this position very very well. It is a pity it doesn’t survive better, but in a lot of ways, ruins can be more spectacular than the full thing.

The other bit worth mentioning here is the John of Gaunt gatehouse. John is well-known to readers of 14th century as the instigator of a massive raid into France in the Hundred Years’ War, and he came to own Dunstanburgh for a while in the late 14th century. He clearly also left his mark on the grounds though indeed I don’t know much about it.

What is also interesting but what I cannot really comment on is how the Edwardian fortification construction lessons from Wales were applied in the next set of castles. The plentiful placards on the site note that Harlech and Conwy resemble certain works on this site, and I imagine people who have visited both will have more to draw on. Maybe when I visit them, I’ll take another guess at comparing these…

Bamburgh Castle

I wish I could say I visited Bebbanburgh, but regrettably as yet we can still travel only in space and not in time. If we could… Until then, I visited Bamburgh.

Northumbria’s ancient seat of power had been in my list of places to see. Firstly, because I have taken an interest in early English history (5th to 9th centuries), and, secondly, because it has lately been popularised by the writings of Mr Bernard Cornwell. Indeed, it was the latter which built in me the enthusiasm for the former.

The present castle is of course not the one we would have seen in the 8th or 9th centuries, nor is our understanding of what those castles looked like particularly good. But, it is ever my principle than in experiencing the places people previously have experienced one can grasp an idea of what they may have thought.

However, one should also think about what Bamburgh symbolised for all of the years after then. It is steeped in history, like so many of the other local fortifications. Bamburgh rebelled against William II when the third Norman Earl of Northumbria, Robert de Mowbray thought he had found a better king than William. After the castle submitted, it became a property of the king, and the royal standard flew from the keep for centuries after then.

Indeed, the various stages of fortification would have added to the keep so that people all around the local area would unrecognisably see the power and authority of the king. And, he was powerful. But, power is always contested. More on this elsewhere (namely, when I’ll get to writing about Dunstanburgh)…

But back to Bamburgh: I found the complex environment of the dunes of the beach and the rock of the castle a very curious mix. The castle from the beach was striking, and the beach from the castle looked like an integral part of the landscape. The dunes seemed to comprise more of a landscape than the entirety of the landward countryside.

And though we shan’t know how exactly Bebbanburgh looked like, but if you’re as curious as I am to see what the people there could have made of it, go and take a look.

And, for a second, back to the Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. How would a lord of this castle behave? What would he think? Would he have looked in admiration onto the Holy Island and the monks there; the very same monks who turned Northumbria into a centre of the Christian culture? What would have been the limit of his aspirations?

Bamburgh Castle

Lindisfarne Castle

I read some books on early Northumbrian development last year (7th century), and it only reinvigorated the wish in me to see the places which gave life to its original greatness. Finally, my  journeying this weekend took me to the Holy Island. Lindisfarne, it is known by others, but, I think, especially after having been there that the name of the ‘Holy Island’ is perfectly suitable.

Admittedly, the castle is presently in the process of reconstruction which should be over by the March of 2018. Hence, entry to the castle was forbidden and all visitors can do is walk about here and there. Therefore, I did not actually stay for too long, but I still got a sense of the area.

Now, before I continue too far, this castle was begun in 1550 and hence some of what I will say below will not readily apply. Warfare on the borders and internally had (with some notable exceptions) ceased by this point, and the kingdoms on this island would soon be unified. However, even so there would have been a period of at least thirty to forty years when it was militarily relevant.

The castle has also been portrayed in several films and thereby has claim to an iconic status. What I considered more iconic, however, was the view across the bay to where Bamburgh rules the skyline. What the people garrisoned here must have thought, seeing their comrades-in-arms so close (and yet so far). What must have the people in Bamburgh thought when the Norsemen raided and pillaged in Lindisfarne to begin with…

The rest of the island, and particularly the priory, are probably more thought-inspiring but even so, this was worth visiting.

Lindisfarne Castle

‘Castle’

I was brought into watching ‘Castle’ by a good friend of mine who insisted that it was a show worthy of the time and effort invested. I was dubious. After all, what good can be a show that’s called ‘Castle’ if it doesn’t have any castles in it? That, at least, was my initial reaction.

The first episode of ‘Castle’ that I saw was the season 2 finale. An odd choice, I dare say, but I had very little control over the circumstances. However, I did enjoy that first look and soon afterwards took the series up from its beginning. By now, I’ve seen all five seasons as well as the latest finale that aired just in the beginning of this week. And, I’m here to say what I think of the show in general as well as of that finale.

I would like to start by saying that ‘Castle’ has treaded the fine line between humour and serious attitude quite well for a long period of time. The jokes — out of all categories of possible interest — were certainly a part of what kept me with the show. How often do people find main characters who are self-confessed comic book fans, or who can spar with lightsabers, or who can just want for a better story in their murder?

As an aside: I am afraid that if you look at the categorization of this post, you’ll see ‘Drama’. That is slightly wrong… ‘Castle’ is almost never as drama-like as it could be, preferring the lighter shades of life to the darker ones. I don’t fault the show that — I can’t fault a show for wanting to be happy and amicable after all, but I felt that this needed a mention.

But, is there something that I could find fault with in the show? Yes, there certainly are things. One of these objects is the persona of Richard Castle, the namesake of the show. Nathan Fillion makes for a very good actor and I enjoy his performances, but every now and then his character fails on me. Mr Castle does this by trying too hard, in a way — it’s not that I mind him being childish occasionally, after all, nearly everyone is. It’s rather that I find Richard Castle a bit too self-centred and unwilling to compromise. It’s his way or nothing at all. Or, at least, that’s how it has looked for the majority of the series, and while there may be good reasons for this, there’s also plenty of not-that-good in an attitude like that.

Stana Katic in Mr Fillion’s female counter-part role as Kate Beckett (and the real reason for the show) is a far more interesting character. There’s a lot going on in that brilliant mind of hers, and that is something I certainly appreciate. What I do wish, at times, is for her to be less stubborn and to know when to give up, but I guess that not everything can be done as I wish it to be. Overall, of the two lead characters, I certainly prefer Ms Beckett to Mr Castle.

[Of the minor characters, Detective Ryan is probably my favourite chap on the show. Seamus Dever brings the detective to life better than the others, in my opinion, and I have really enjoyed a more thorough look at the fellow that we’ve had in season five.]

One other thing ‘Castle’ does really well are these random scenes, with people walking out singing or entering in the middle of an important sentence. One of these from the mid-third season was really memorable for me, by virtue of introducing me to a very pleasant song. Here it is, just so the cast can sing it once more for us fans…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4mebeNe0pw]

But now, on to my thoughts on the ending of season five. I enjoyed the last episode, and I am looking forward to the sixth season. In a way, this was the only possibility for keeping the show going, but the episode served well to reinforce my doubts on ‘Castle and Beckett’. I’d like for her to go for what she wants, just because I don’t think he can open himself up — which has been a topic throughout the last season but not really explored in anything except Kate’s thoughts. It is very easy for Castle in every situation to make it about himself, but life’s not like that. And it could be that he has realized that.

It does seem that we need to wait for a few months to see how real this impression is, but hopefully things will be on a more interesting level in season six.

EDIT: With regards to the topmost comment below, I’ve changed the post above to reflect to the characters and not the actors as is proper. Thanks!